Kitchen Gods Wife

by Amy Tan

Hardcover, 1998






The mesmerizing story a Chinese emigre mother tells her daughter.

Media reviews

Where Ms. Tan writes about contemporary Chinese-Americans, her portraits are often witty and complex. You want to know more about people like Uncle Henry Kwong, who insists on videotaping the funeral of a relative, or Roger Bao-bao, who feels ready to be one of the pallbearers because he has been "pumping iron." But the plight of a maiden victimized by an arranged marriage seems very old stuff. Amy Tan can probably do better. One hopes that she soon will.
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Within the peculiar construction of Amy Tan's second novel is a harrowing, compelling and at times bitterly humorous tale in which an entire world unfolds in a Tolstoyan tide of event and detail.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cyderry
The Kitchen God's Wife is the powerful story of the personal hardships and struggles of a Chinese woman during the Chinese war with Japan. During the narrative, the reader gets a peek into this part of Chinese history as well as the culture and societal prejudices.
This story probes into the role of the Chinese culture of the time and how the secrets of families effect their members in unforeseen manners. Winnie's forced by her "sister" to reveal all of her secrets to her daughter. Her life story is filled with misfortune and hope. At times depressing and at others inspiring, this entrancing, vibrant, elegant, and unforgettable tale of womanhood, fortitude, and love, is intertwined with light comedy and the curative power of truth.
This overwhelming story tells of the degradation of an abusive husband and the triumph of the human spirit.. Winnie's tale shows the inhumanity of arranged marriages and horrific treatment of women. As Winnie relates the events of her life before her emigration to a new life in the USA, the steadfast devotion and loyalty of her female friends support Winnie and aid her flight to freedom. In the end, their continued assistance bring her closer to her daughter at time when they both need each other.
This was a very difficult book to read because of the horror that is conveyed in this tale. If nothing else it makes you appreciate the freedom of our society and blessings of our lives.
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LibraryThing member opinion8dsngr
Tan once again delves into the lives of Chinese American families. This time she focuses on the role of cultures and secrets within growing families and how the past can effect the present in unexpected ways. Having been forced by her "sister" to divulge all of her secrets to her daughter, the main character's mother reveals a life story filled with tragedy and hope. Often deeply depressing, the story is, in the end, uplifting. While it may be tempting to abandon the novel midway due to the heavy nature of its contents, it is definitely worthwhile to keep reading. After all, the narrator has a secret of her own to divulge.… (more)
LibraryThing member varwenea
It’s been easily 17 years since I read The Joy Luck Club that I finally decided to read The Kitchen God’s Wife. In some ways, KGW is better the JLC since it focused in depth for predominately one character, Jiang Weili Winnie Louie, along with her friend Helen and daughter Pearl. JLC’s revolving 4 mother/daughter relations had less depth… BUT, I find JLC to be more impactful, because it’s more believable. Amy Tan has a tendency to throw every roadblock, crap, god-awful unimaginable events into her characters’ lives. When it’s happening to 8 people in JLC, I can appreciate it more. When it’s Winnie alone, there’s a bit of now-what?!?

Unfortunately, I find the main character, Winnie, to be simply whiny. I almost feel bad to call her whiny after all these bad things in her life. But her characterization is kind of hard to appreciate when she is so superstitious, strong, yet just as weak, and her stubbornness in acquiring the divorce paper that resulted in the final rape and beating from her first husband.

I also thought the book has loose ends in Helen’s character – a bit of friend vs. frenemey. While the book wrapped with her as a supposed true friend, there are unexplained motives to all her other incorrect memories and pain that she caused Winnie throughout the years.

In the end, by throwing too much into the history of these ladies, I think Amy lost sight of her writing. It was still an easy page turner. But the only good thing that I’m drawing from this book is that I am finally ready to read “The Rape of Nanking” – a reality that I’ve avoided thus far.

A few quotes, and some of which are more like truths that I am far too familiar with:

The duty of a “good” Chinese daughter does for her family. --- After years of manipulation, I moved two states away to avoid this supposed duty.
“When we were first married, Phil used to say that I was driven by blind devotion to fear and guilt.”
“Whereas nowadays – today, for instance – I’m not really sure why I still give in to my family obligations. While I would never admit this to Phil, I’ve come to resent the duty.”

Winnie starts her story with this quote.
“It is the same pain I have had for many years. It comes from keeping everything inside, waiting until it is too late.”
~~I wish for no one to have pain in their lives, but for just as many, holding the pain inside is simply the norm.~~

I had smiled reading this. At work, it’s called risk mitigation. But apparently, it’s bad luck to plan for bad events.
“I am only saying we must be practical. This is wartime. We must feel with our hearts, but also think with our minds – clearly all the time. If we pretend that dangers are not there, how can we avoid them?”
“How can you sue these kinds of bad-luck words to poison everyone’s future?”

An expression of love and care, from Gan (an admirer) to Winnie.
“You see yourself only in a mirror. But I see you the way you can never see yourself, all the pure things, neither good nor bad.”

Stereotype X 2 – This made me chuckled a bit too.
“Just beyond Changsha, we drove past hills with rice terraces cut into them. This is the kind of China you Americans always see in the movies – the poor countryside, people wearing big hats to protect themselves from the sun. No, I never wore a hat like that! I was from Shanghai. That’s like thinking someone from San Francisco wears a cowboy hat and rides a horse. Ridiculous!”

About the horrors in Nanking:
“Raped old women, married women, and little girls, taking turns with them, over and over again. Sliced them open with a sword when they were all used up. Cut off their fingers to take their rings. Shot all the little sons, no more generations. Raped ten thousand, chopped down twenty or thirty thousand, a number that is no longer a number, no longer people.”

Finding love in each other, a kind of forbidden love (since Winnie was still married to the bad first husband), but love nonetheless.
“To see his face! The joy on his face!
We said no words. He took my hands and held them firmly. And we both stood in the road, our eyes wet with happiness, knowing without speaking that we both felt the same way.”

Love in a simple, joyful, pure, uncomplicated expression:
“Why take a picture of me in a nightgown, my hair all messy like that? Your father said it was his favorite picture. ‘Winnie and the sunshine wake up together,’ he used to say. Every morning when I woke up, he was already awake, looking at me, telling me that. There was a song he sang to me. ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ He sang it many times, every morning.”......
(After making love for the first time) “And afterward he kept his arms around me, afraid to let me go.”
“So that’s why your father liked this picture. In the morning, I was still there. I was his sunshine.”

Between Winnie and her daughter Pearl regarding Pearl’s multiple sclerosis , from Pearl:
“I was relieved in a strange way. Or perhaps relief was not the feeling. Because the pain was still there. She was tearing it away – my protective shell, my anger, my deepest fears, my despair. She was putting all this into her own heart, so that I could finally see what was left. Hope.”
~~I am a firm believer in hope; Pandora box be damned. :P ~~
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LibraryThing member bibliophileofalls
A good book reminiscent of a number of others where the protagonist is telling another person about a period of their life which was heretofore a secret. That phase of the protagonist's life is generally a very difficult time, fraught by hardships and misery. I did enjoy the story even though is was almost familar in some ways.… (more)
LibraryThing member lhicks5
This was an excellent book. A real page turner. The mother-daughter relationship was heart-wrenching. I could really relate to their frustrations and love for each other. The the flow of the text was colorful and natural. I felt as if I really heard the voices of the characters, particularly the mother Weiwei.
LibraryThing member goldagrace
i read this when i was 14 years old and eventhough some concepts were a bit too much for a teen, it was very much enjoing. inspired me to read more amy tan novels.
LibraryThing member melydia
I almost put down this book after the first fifty pages or so, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I had two major concerns that turned out to be unfounded. This book was neither a recycled Joy Luck Club nor a tiresomely preachy precautionary tale about the dangers of keeping secrets from your loved ones until it's too late. Sure, it starts off with secrets being kept by a Chinese woman, Winnie, from her Chinese-American daughter (and vice versa) but the bulk of the book is Winnie telling her daughter the story of her life in China during WWII. It reads like your grandmother telling you about her childhood in the old country: very personal and occasionally exaggerated, with a lot of unimportant details - much like all human memories. A few times I tired of the constant "oh my life in China was so horrible" refrain, but the ending is satisfying, uplifting, and very much worth it. I don't know if I'll actively search out more books by Amy Tan - I can only read about women who escape oppression in China so many times - but her lyrical prose and poetic metaphors were very lovely. If I ever find something by her with a vastly different plot I'll scoop it up immediately, just to immerse myself in her gorgeous writing style once again.… (more)
LibraryThing member magst
Another great book from Tan!!! I devoured this one too.
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
In stacks--the only Amy Tan I never read for some reason.
LibraryThing member OwlCat
I liked better than [The Joy Luck Club.] Like Joy Luck this novel deals with a mother/daughter relationship. The mother’s story about her difficult life back in China is the heart of the novel and it is framed by present-day scenes with her daughter in California. The novel is not only about the mother’s past, it is also about the stories we keep hidden, why we keep them secret, and why we may eventually reveal ourselves to someone we love.… (more)
LibraryThing member autumnesf
I did not enjoy this novel as much as the other Amy Tan novel's I have read. It is still good but it seemed too much like something else I read. This story starts with the daughter keeping a health secret from her mother - and from there goes into lots of secrets about her mother's past in China. The mother has lived through abandonment, abuse and the deaths of her first three children. The usual Amy Tan stuff. I would recommend as a read, but check it out of the library.… (more)
LibraryThing member stien
Second book I ever read by Tan and I can't remember a darn thing about it. Uh-oh...
LibraryThing member corgidog2
Chinese mother and daughter come to terms over "old people" secrets.
LibraryThing member StoryB
A sweeping epic about kinship and the human spirit.

In America, a Chinese mother narrates her own personal saga to her daughter - starting when she was six years old.
It is like a verbal memoir - deep because of the hardships encountered and evocative because the history and life revealed is a world apart from what the daughter knows.
Culture, tradition, rights, war, are just some of the many themes covered.
The story also shines a light on the present and gives renewed strength to a strained relationship.

Although it is a serious story and the subject matter weighty, there are some smiles, and when those smiles happen, they are not taken for granted.
The tone of the mother's narration is gently honest and brave.

The book is dimensional in that it is fiction with essences of some truth. (You can read about Amy Tan, her musings, life influences and writing craft in her nonfiction work "The Opposite of Fate").

Ultimately, "The Kitchen God's Wife" gives a voice to women - and paints the delicate and strong ties that encourage, sustain and embolden.
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LibraryThing member ferebend
Another solid offering from Amy Tan. That woman knows how to write an engaging story. No one does the theme of emotionally distant mother-daughter relationships quite like her. She's also the master of neat, emotionally satisfying endings. Oh, and she's very good at making me cry. This was a lot like The Joy Luck Club, but overall more coherent.

What more is there to say at this point? Tan's writing is gold. I'll be looking forward to the next one!
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LibraryThing member HotWolfie
I had to read this in high school and again in college. It was my first introduction to Amy Tan, and from this book I moved onto her others. This is by far Tan's strongest novel. The story is of a woman telling her grown daughter about the lies that had surrounded her life for so many decades. It is a story of a decaying marriage, abuse, loss, war time struggles, oppression of women, a strained mother-daughter relationship, and creating a new life. This was an entertaining read and was one of the first books (as a high school student) I actually wanted to read all the way through.… (more)
LibraryThing member miketroll
Absorbing tale of family life among San Francisco Chinatown folk.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a story that spans decades. Begun in the present day by the first person narrative of Pearl, the bulk of the story is told by her seventy-four-year-old mother Winnie (Weili) as she relates to her daughter the tale of her first marriage, telling of what it was like in China during and after World War II and how she came to America. The Kitchen God of the title allots luck according to just desserts. He's deified, even though his wife who had suffered because of him and had lived a life of virtue. Winnie identifies with the wife: Nobody had worshiped her either. He got all the excuses. He got all the credit. She was forgotten.

The story impressed me in so many ways. First, there's a real difference in voice between mother and daughter. Somehow, without using distracting and annoying devices such as elisions and eccentric spellings, through syntax and word choice, Tan makes Winnie sound like a non-native English speaker of an earlier generation. And before that Winnie sounded so much like a mother. I completely understood and related to her daughter detailing how her mother drove her crazy and their frequent disconnect. But Tan conveys the love there too, even before Winnie tells her story that makes sense of so much her daughter hadn't understood. And Tan is simply a wonderful storyteller, able to convey the complexities of Chinese culture to an American reading audience while completely involving you emotionally. My first book by Amy Tan, it certainly won't be my last.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Perhaps I shouldn't write reviews based on something I read when I was 11, but I still remember how much I enjoyed this book. The characters and their families were realistic to me and this was the first time I learned about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the subsequent fighting between Chiang Kai-shek's and Mao's forces. I know I probably wouldn't like it as much if I read it today, but I'm very sentimentally attached to one of the first works that awakened my young mind to the history of the world.… (more)
LibraryThing member Olivermagnus
When we meet Winnie Louie, she seems like a traditional Chinese wife, ruling her family with a combination of love and superstition. Now widowed, she still misses her husband, Jimmie Louie, and worries excessively about her two grown children. Winnie has secrets she has kept hidden since her youth in China, secrets she wants to tell Pearl but is afraid to.

Pearl Louie, now in her 40s, has secrets too. She has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and knows that her mother will wonder what she has done to cause Pearl's illness. Most of the novel then switches to Winnie's narration and the story of her life in China. She is sent to live with relatives but then makes a terrible mistake that will fill her life with pain and misery. Her story is both tragic and painful to read about.

I originally read this book when it was first published in 1995 but discovered that I couldn't remember anything about it. Amy Tan does a wonderful job of making her characters realistic and every word from Winnie seemed believable. The first section was a little slow, but once we go back to China with Winnie, I couldn't put it down. It has several subplots and all of them are engaging. The characters are complex and the relationships between the women is especially insightful. While some of the scenes are tragic, I'm glad that I had a chance to read this novel once more.
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LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
This is the third Amy Tan novel I've read, and it's the one I found least gratifying. She's a master story teller, but this one got wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste. Still, it was a worthwhile read.
LibraryThing member readingwithtea
This was the very first book I read in 2014, and it has taken me until December 2014 to review it. In the meantime I have read a different book by Amy Tan, The Bonesetter's Daughter, and now cannot tell them apart in my mind. I do remember that The Kitchen God's Wife felt smoother, a better constructed story (though, like TBD, the framing was a little awkward), and that I did read it all the way to the end fairly quickly. Reading some other plot summaries, more of it is coming back to me, but the fact that so little of it, except for the fractious daughter-mother-aunt relationship, seems familiar to me is not a positive sign.… (more)
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
okay novel again mother + daughter hard life in China - okay

Winnie and Helen have kept each other's worst secrets for more than fifty years. Now, because she believes she is dying, Helen wants to expose everything. And Winnie angrily determines that she must be the one to tell her daughter, Pearl, about the past—including the terible truth even Helen does not know. And so begins Winnie's story of her life on a small island outside Shanghai in the 1920s, and other places in China during World War II, and traces the happy and desperate events tha led to Winnie's coming to America in 1949.… (more)
LibraryThing member engpunk77
Again, Tan is one of my favorite writers. This book draws you into a tapestry of intricate relationships and lovable characters. Tan has a way of telling a story that keeps you desperate to continue reading, and leaves you sorry that the tales have come to an end. Although the end always folds upon itself neatly and leaves you feeling fulfilled. She can't write these fast enough!… (more)
LibraryThing member Julia.Reeb
I love Amy Tan, and this one was no exception.


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